Tidbits of Shelby County History
Shelbyville, During the Republic of Texas

Shelby County was first organized under the Mexican government as Tenehaw Municipality; Nashville was the most important town in the Municipality. In 1836 the Congress of the Republic of Texas established Shelby County, named for Isaac Shelby, hero of the American Revolution and governor of Kentucky. The name of the town Nashville was changed to Shelbyville by the Congress of the Republic of Texas on November 2, 1837. The incorporation was dissolved by the subsequent Act passed by the Congress of the Republic in 1841. Shelbyville was now the county seat, which it remained until 1866, when the county seat was moved to Center. The area was believed to be settled in the 1820’s by people from Tennessee who residents’ ancestors had fought with Shelby.

Texas was originally divided into municipalities (municipios in Spanish), a unit of local government under Spanish and Mexican rule. When the Republic of Texas gained its independence in 1836, the 23 municipalities became the original Texas counties.The Republic of Texas existed from March 2, 1836, to February 19, 1846, although Mexico considered it a rebellious province during its entire existence. Austin, Brazoria, Bexar, Colorado, Goliad, Gonzales, Harrisburg, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Milam, Mina, Nacogdoches, Red River, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Patricio, Shelby, Victoria and Washington Counties were the Republic’s original 23 counties created on March 17, 1836.

As early as 1818, a Tennessean John Latham Sr., was the first to permanently arrived in what is now considered Shelby County. Along with the Latham family, other early settlers into the area were James Forsythe, Bittick, Anderson, Amason, Anthony, Bradley, Buckley, Brittain, Choate, Childess, Dunn, Davis, Duncan, English, Eddins, Fain, Hailey, Haley, Hooper, Hopkins, Hughes, Irish, Latham, Lout, Lucas, Middleton, Nail, O'Bannon, Ritter, Richards, Runnells, Roberts, Strickland, Smith, Snider, Sanders, Sample, Samford/Sanford, Tutt, Todd, Truitt, Walker, Woodfin, Watson, Withers, Wheeler, Williams, Yarbrough. (The museum has many family histories – come check us out).

Sydney O.Penington, participant in the siege of Bexar, was born in Kentucky, on February 27, 1809. In 1834 he moved from Arkansas Territory to Texas and settled in what is now Shelby County. On October 17, 1835, he enrolled in John M. Bradley's company of volunteers for the Texas army. He participated in the siege of Bexar and was honorably discharged from the army on December 17, 1835. Penington enlisted in James Chesser's company of Jasper Volunteers on March 23, 1836. He represented Shelby County in the House of the First Congress of the republic, from October 3, 1836, to June 14, 1837. He died on October 28, 1837 and is buried in the cemetery at Shelbyville.

William Carrol Crawford, the last surviving signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 13, 1804. He was related to Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. Because of ill health, he moved to Texas with his wife's family. The caravan arrived in January 1835 and settled near the site of Shelbyville.

A description of Shelbyville in 1838 states Shelbyville, the principal town, is situated near the southern bank of the Tenaha, on an elevated and fertile plain. It contains about thirty houses and is rapidly increasing. Hamilton, near the southern boundary, is yet a mere hamlet.The area around Shelbyville was described as a beautiful land, relatively unsettled and full of food and material goods.

A Republic of Texas post office was established by 1843 in Shelbyville. In 1866 in a contested fight for the county seat, county records were spirited away in the dead of night and Center became the new Shelby County seat of government.

Many of the inhabitants of Shelbyville during this time were rough and rowdy men.  Shelbyville was experiencing growing pains. The streets of Shelbyville were filled with gunfights and brawls on a daily basics.  Trouble had been brewing in Shelby County for several years before it reached its climax and involved most of East Texas. In came the desperadoes, outlaws, robbers, and other refuse of society. These characters drifted across the Sabine into Shelby County.

These lawless men preyed on the innocent by engaging in the manufacture and sale of fraudulent land certificates. By 1839, this lawlessness led to groups being formed called the Regulators and Moderators. Shelbyville became the flashpoint in the Regulator-Moderator War. Most of the major battles of this famous feud were fought here or nearby.There were apparently fine men in both ranks. In some instances, families were split.

One of the events everyone agrees that sparked the feud happened in 1839 was when a man named Alfred George sold a Negro to Joseph Goodbread, receiving in payment a fraudulent land certificate. All was good for about a year when the Congress of the Republic of Texas passed the celebrated Act to Detect Fraudulent Land Certificates.  A traveling board began an investigation of the records of Shelby County. The Board rejected all the certificates that George had received. The original trade consisted of more than 46,000 acres (10 headrights for a league and one labor each). George was determined to cancel the sale on the grounds of fraud. George managed to involve one Charles W. Jackson in the dispute.

George goaded Jackson with threats that he claimed Goodbread had made. With his rifle on his shoulder, Jackson rode into the town of Shelbyville where he met Goodbread on the street, took aim and fired his gun. Goodbread was killed. Jackson’s trial was held in Harrison County. After the farce trial, Jackson was set free by the sheriff.

Jackson’s band of Regulators was now recognized. The other side formed an opposing band, the Moderators, and chose Edward Merchant as their leader. The Regulators said they were bringing law and justice to Shelby County. The Moderators said they were supporting law and justice.
Jackson was soon killed, and the Regulators held a meeting in Tenaha bottom electing Charles W. (Watt) Moorman as Commander. The Regulators took possession of the town of Shelbyville and Moorman made his headquarters there, keeping with him a bodyguard of twenty men.
No Moderators could visit the town without risk of insult or injury. The Courts were powerless and were openly defied by Moorman, who was by now, intoxicated by success.

An example of the atmosphere in Shelbyville during the Republic of Texas era was found in the Christian Reflector, Thursday, Jul 18, 1844, Boston, MA.Lynch Law - The Caddo Gazette states that one of the men who murdered the old gentleman Runnels, on the night of 5th ult. was caught last week, taken to Shelbyville, in Texas, and hanged, without any other judge than the vengeance of an incensed community. He confessed under the gallows that he and the young man who was the actual murdered, had been employed by certain persons in Texas to kill five men, Runnels being one of the number, with the promise that they should receive for their bloody work $1000. The only name that he gave was that of Wild Bill, stating that his family, which reside in Missouri, were highly respectable, and he was unwilling that odium should be cast upon them, by his crime and ignominious death.

The Charleston Daily Courier reported on Tue, 10 Sept 1844

The regulators have proved victorious until Friday week when in a pitched battle they were beaten. It is stated that so far 80 men have been killed in all. Application has been made by the neutral citizens to President Houston to quell the insurrection, but he replies to them that they must fight their own battles and settle their own difficulties.

These "Regulators", if we recollect aright, are men who slip unto the shoes of the law and pass sentence on suspicious and guilty people. In other words, they are practitioners of the code of Lynch.

In a Charleston, South Carolina newspaper an extract of a letter from a citizen of Texas, resident in Shelbyville, to his friend in Charleston, dated September 22nd, 1844.

" I have enjoyed tolerable health during the summer, but my mind has been much disturbed by the unprecedented state of affairs in Shelby county; civil war with all its horrors has been raging in this community, numbering about five hundred voters. My pen is inadequate to portray to your imagination the desperate state of things, nor can I pretend, at this time to describe to you the rise and progress of this dreadful war. It commenced about three years ago, but subsided until within the last six months, when it again broke out with redoubled fury. The citizens of the county are about equally divided into two parties who are termed Regulators and Moderators. It is no uncommon sight to see brothers opposed to each other. The Regulators take it on themselves to regulate the community and order such individuals as they consider bad characters to leave the county. The Moderators oppose such measures as illegal. Two battles have been fought within a few days, in which many were killed and wounded. About seven hundred men from the adjoining counties, by order of the President, have made their appearance at the seat of war, and we have again some prospect of peace.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on Wed., 25 Sep 1844: The Texas Border Feud - A letter from Shelby County, Texas states that President Houston had arrived with nearly one thousand men to repress the disturbances occasioned by the "Regulators" and "Moderators." Houston is reported to say, “I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha and Terrapin Neck (located half way between Huxley and Paul’s Store, near Wimberly Cemetery) free and independent governments, and let them fight it out.”

After the murder of John M. Bradley, letters were sent to the capital of Texas asking that something be done to officially end the disagreements. Even Moses F. Roberts and William C. Crawford penned letters to Houston asking for troops to be sent to Shelbyville. By August of 1844, Houston decided to end the conflict in Shelby County. After the stern lecture by Houston to the leaders of the two fighting groups, the leaders gave bond that they would hereafter observe the laws of the Republic and maintain the peace of the county. Houston said, “I urge you to disband your armed men at once. I desire to accomplish this peacefully, but if not peacefully, as the last alternative I shall invoke the military as badly as I dislike to do it. In memory of the dead on San Jacinto’s bloody field, in memory of the fallen heroes at the Alamo of Fannin and his brave companions at Goliad – in the name of our proud history – our Lone Star emblem of bravery and charity – I call upon you to forget the trifles which called you to arms against your neighbors, to lay them aside and forever be friends”.

Even though the conflict between the two sides had ended, many hard feelings remain. Another tragic event that occurred in 1847 known as the “Poison Wedding Supper” is said be connected to the feud between the Regulators and Moderators.

There is a particularly good account of this event written by Reba January James on the Shelby County Museum site. I would encourage everyone to read this interesting part of Shelby County history.

In writing this brief history about the Regulators-Moderator war I used the memoirs of Eph Daggett, Dr. Ashcroft, Middleton, Horton and others who left letters, notes and studies of this time in history. The complete truth of the conflict may never completely be known. One fact emerges – fact or fiction - discussion will continue.The museum does have copies of the manuscripts of Daggett, Dr. Ashcroft and Middleton if anyone is interested in learning more details of this feud.